I hope the adjustment to this new normal finds you well! As I focus on the positive, we have been enjoying several aspects of this semi-quarantined kind of life, mainly more quality family time.
With summer officially upon us, I figured I would share how we keep our kids active and engaged, without major or constant parental oversight. See I am the kind of mom who wants their kids to learn and grow as independently as their ages allow. So I tend to provide them with a framework and let them choose how to play and explore within that framework. The framework this summer is a weekly checklist that they use to track their chores and learning. I’ve included it as a free download at the end of this post, just in case you want some ideas.
The kids enjoy using this framework and respond well to the freedom of choices they have. Some days, they finish up their minimum number of tasks quickly (before lunchtime), so that they can earn screentime. Other days they go through it slowly, where every task becomes a gateway to a whole creative world. Either way, they are content and playing and learning, and I am content and working, or guiding them, or doing the million other tasks required of a mother.
Well, our governor closed schools for a 3 week long spring break thanks to the CoVid-19 coronavirus. Tons of fun. Since 3 of our kids are still in our home, I needed to put together a plan for them so they didn’t drive me nuts. Fortunately, I homeschooled for 3 years, so I was able to quickly pull up some older resources and 24 hours later, our home is in a home-learning routine.
Ironically writing this blog post has taken me more time than getting our system up and running. So first, some background, I have no desire nor ability right now to stand over my kids for hours and make sure they are doing what I’d like. So I based my quarantine routine on a checklist system that I put together during my first homeschooled kid’s first grade year. I wanted him to be able to independently know what he needed to do and get done as much as possible without me (this method could be especially helpful for parents who now have to balance working from home and babysitting kids). Then I adapted it for part-time learning, since we don’t yet have remote learning set up from the kids’ schools, and they are technically on an extended spring break. Fortunately, my youngest is in Kindergarten and can read a good deal, so I was able to explain this system to all 3 of my at-home kids, and they are now in the rhythm.
Unfortunately, I’m not as good as explaining things to adults, but I will do my best. I am also including the file I used at the bottom of this post. I’m not charging anything for it, I don’t even get any advertising or affiliate income off of this blog. I just thought that with all the chaos out here right now, maybe I can inject a tiny bit of peace and harmony in some homes.
Let me explain- no, it is too much, let me sum up: I made a list of my priorities, what I wanted the kids to be sure to do every day. I put these priorities on a spreadsheet as topics that they can check off when they complete the task. I set it up so they re-use this checklist every day for a week (to save paper). I also added a short description or instruction for each topic, right now this description is the same for every day of the week, but it can be altered later to focus on a specific subject or lesson each day. With a little Excel savvy, many can tweak this file for their own needs and priorities.
Now we all know that setting up a list of things for kids to do is only half the battle, getting them to ACTUALLY do it can be a bear as well. So I created a system of rewards or incentives tied to completing the checklist in a timely manner. This incentive system was based on a similar system I had to implement with one of my older (not-at-home) kids who has been diagnosed with ODD (Oppositional Defiance Disorder).
Part of my incentives are set out in the “Incentives” sheet/tab in the file, another part is built into the order of the checklist. The last topic on the list for each day is titled “Brain Work,” this could also be called “Online Learning,” but that doesn’t fit as well. As time goes on, and we transition to remote learning, this topic will expand into 1 or more lines. But for now, they only have to keep up a “learning momentum” as their school calls it. This doesn’t sound like an incentive, but most of the online “educational” resources lately seem to be more game than actual work. So the kids are super-excited to get to pull out their school-issued Chromebooks and spend 20 minutes on PBSKids.org, or other such website. One note here, to keep them from getting too involved in an educational game like Prodigy, I have told the kids to pick a different online learning site each day throughout the week.
Another thing I should explain is what is a “School show” vs. “Candy Bar show.” So we don’t have cable TV, we have Netflix and Amazon Prime, that’s it. So I have had the luxury of previewing each of the shows they watch on the TV. Years ago, I started using the term “School show” for any show that has some actual educational value, like Magic School Bus or Sid the Science Kid. I’ve told the kids that they can only watch this category of show during school hours (awake to 3 pm). Lately, they have been trying to push the boundary of what qualifies as a school show. So a discussion with my 9-year-old a couple weeks ago led to the term “Candy Bar show.” These are shows that have no educational value, like Ninjago or Boss Baby.
Well I’m sure I’ve missed something in my explanations, so feel free to comment. I’ll do what I can to make more sense of it if necessary. So without further ado, here’s the Surviving Spring Break Quarantine Checklist:
It’s 4:30 pm in our household, and the school day is over. I’ve planned something quick for dinner, so I happen to have a few minutes to write this post. Today was a good one as far as getting all our school work done (this doesn’t always happen), so I figured I’d walk you through our day.
We started this morning pretty lazily (ok, that was all me). The kids had some new coloring books and other goodies from their visit to the police station yesterday, so they started playing and reading as soon as they woke up. I was still recovering from some very short nights earlier this week, so I half-slept in a bit more than usual.
Once I got going, I asked the older 2 kids to go get dressed while I got myself ready, and my preschooler continued playing on the floor. Then I asked them to set the table for breakfast while I got my youngest dressed.
After breakfast, I asked them to unload the dishwasher. As they did that, I sat down to update our accounts and check to see how our spending was matching our budget (we’re doing much better, but we still need to rein in our dining-out a bit). Realizing it had been more than half an hour and the dishwasher hadn’t been touched, I asked the kids again. They usually do this chore happily, but not today. Once they started though, they finished quickly and we were ready to start school.
We started with a quick lesson from “Manners Made Easy” by June Hines Moore. Then we did a few lessons from “First Language Lessons For The Well-Trained Mind: Level 2” by Jessie Wise. I tend to only do each subject once a week (except Math, which I do twice), so today I taught 5 of the lessons from “First Language Lessons.”
I found early on that I don’t do well teaching the same 5 – 10 subjects every day. So I learned that I would rather have one or two longer lessons, once a week. And my kids seem to respond better to that as well. During this time I gave my preschooler a busy box (or two) so he could play without interrupting. This never goes perfectly, but it does work well enough.
After we finished my 2 subjects, the kids have independent study in Reading, Memory work, and Piano. For the next 3 hours they worked on those and other softer skills, like working together, communicating clearly, and building and creating. All this activity included a break for lunch and recess, during which they proudly built a snowman, without adult help, by working together. I’ve found that sending them outside for recess before lunch works well for me. Today I made soup and hot chocolate to warm them up once they came inside.
Around 2:30 pm, I put my preschooler down for a nap and the other 2 did a little more reading and playing independently. They had already finished their other subjects, so I didn’t mind what activity they picked as long as it wasn’t TV. Realizing that he had finished his schoolwork early, my second grader asked to go on to Khan Academy and practice his computer programming. He’s really enjoying this “extra” schoolwork and gets so excited about his animations.
Now it’s 5:00 pm and I need to get supper going. My husband is usually home just before 6:00 pm, so we’ll eat around then.
I hope your day was great and filled with Blessings!
Today I’ve decided to go back in time to when I was first considering homeschooling. I’ll be honest, it was a scary idea.
First of all, I did not think I had the patience to put up with all of my kids, all day, every day. And I wasn’t surprised the first couple years when I lost my temper, a lot. In fact, the first semester of First grade was the worst. I was feeling a lot of pressure to do school in a traditional way. Ironically I had researched different methods and decided I didn’t want to do traditional, but I was still teaching the way I knew.
But I think I’m getting ahead of myself – let’s start with the basics:
Why are you considering homeschooling?
We all have different reasons for this, for some it’s faith-based, for some it’s academics, for some it’s politics, for many it’s the realization that public school and your kid just don’t mix well.
My reasons are like a recipe of the above, a little of this, a little of that, and a lot of “my kid is too crazy for anyone else!” Heheh!
One thing a lot of old-school homeschoolers recommend is to write a mission statement for your homeschool. I don’t have one formally spelled out, but it’s given me the foundation I need. Here are a couple great articles on reasons and mission statements:
Everyone who is new to this has concerns, the key is understanding them. A helpful tool is researching how others addressed the same concerns. I highly recommend searching Pinterest, there is a treasure trove of homeschooling bloggers out there.
Once you’ve done your research, you can decide if you are convinced enough to try it, or not. (If not, you probably won’t be interested in the rest of this post, but, seriously, Thanks for stopping by!)
While you are researching your concerns, you should check out the homeschooling laws in your area. I strongly recommend HSLDA for getting all the details and forms that you would need in one place. These guys are priceless!
Some of the many concerns we have with homeschooling:
Second is what this post is mostly about, making a plan. So on to…
Figure out which method suits you best.
If you are really new to this, you’ll be asking yourself, “What in the world is a homeschool method?”
A homeschool method is the style and set of guiding principles you will use to help you teach and select curriculum. Understanding how you want to teach (and how you actually teach) are important to overcome fears and get a handle on what can be an overwhelming selection of resources.
Basically, you will learn about at least 5 different methods:
Traditional – often called school at home
Classical – modern version of teaching style from ancient Rome & Greece
Charlotte Mason – focuses on teaching out of real books and nature study
Unit Studies – uses 5 or 6 week units for teaching subjects
Sometimes, the best way to research different methods is to focus on them one at a time. This way you hear from individual homeschoolers the reasons why they like what they use.
Once you start to get an idea of the method you want to try, then you can start figuring out what kind of learning styles will work best with your kid(s). You want to make sure you have a good idea of how your child learns best.
Fortunately there are a number of resources for assessing your child’s strengths and weaknesses. Feel free to search for Learning Style Assessments, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t need to pay for one.
Keep in mind that assessments are meant as guidelines. Don’t prohibit your kids from learning any way they can. I was surprised to find out that my little fireball of a girl, the one who NEVER stops moving, actually enjoys worksheets. Granted, she does them while sitting on top of the school table, but, hey, she’s learning.
So you’ve figured out your reasons, your method, and your child(ren)’s learning style, now can we get to curriculum?
Yes, now you are armed and prepared to venture into the curriculum market.
My first step to choosing curriculum was reading reviews of other moms and the choices they made for their kids, especially if they are using the same method (or variant thereof).
Actually, I can’t think of any of my curriculum that I wasn’t referred to by another homeschool mom, either online or in person (except Scripture Study).
After you have your choices in your hot little hands, it’s time to plan out your year of lessons. Don’t rush yourself unless you have to, my first year it took me at least 4 weeks to put together my lesson plan. It took less than a week the next year.
Your first step is to go through the chapter titles and read through the first lesson. Do this the night you get your books (if you can) to get a feel for what you’ve signed up for. If you realize you don’t like it, don’t feel guilty about returning it and trying something else.
Some curriculum is easy to plan, 1 lesson per day. Others are not as easy, especially if your kid is a third of the way through the year already. If you are in that situation, where your kid has part of a year’s work done, but is clearly not ready for the next year, then you will need to go through the curriculum more carefully during your planning period.
I went through and combined or skipped several lessons that my son was past. From some lessons, I would only use one point in order to serve as a review. In that way, he didn’t get bored dragging his feet through something he had already mastered.
Don’t forget that YOU are the teacher now, you control what you want your kids to learn, not a school district, state, or nation. Though there are homeschool laws you need to be mindful of, they don’t decide the day-to-day learning needs of your kid. That’s all you!
If you are spreadsheet person, I have an example of how I planned my first year for you here (there’s a lot of real life in here, because this is the version at the end of the year, I updated it every week with our progress): Lesson Plan_First Grade
By now you should be ready to get started.
Be sure to hit the back-to-school sales at Walmart and stock up on pencils, paper, and crayons.
Start day one with some pictures and celebrating, get excited and your kids will be too.
You can also use a First Day of School worksheet like this one (feel free to shorten it, my kids never get through the whole thing): First Day of School Interview
Have fun! And don’t try to do too much too fast!
Finally, forgive yourself and your kid(s) for bad days. You and they will have them.
You may even end up with a lot of them when you start. If that’s the case, you’re probably trying to do too much in a day.
Part of my trouble my first year, was that I tried to do every subject every day. I gave myself a LOT of work in preparation each day, and I couldn’t keep up. I was also putting a lot of pressure on my oldest to get his assignments done because we needed to get on to the next assignment. It did NOT work well for us.
Fortunately I had a some more experienced friends in church that helped me see I was doing too much. It really is ok to do one lesson per subject per week. You don’t have to get through a book in a year. If you still want to finish one book per year, you can skip lessons or combine them so you have a block of each subject each week.
I have some core subjects that my kids have to do independently, and then I teach 1 or 2 lessons per school day. That way we still get done what we need to, and I don’t go insane. Heheh!
Here are a couple of articles on overcoming bad days:
However you do it, make sure it works for your family. Have fun and enjoy the journey!
As I was driving around last week, I was reflecting on what it would be like if my kids went to public school. What I could do with all that time! And then I realized that I would probably mope and feel lonely without them. My kids give me so much love and encouragement throughout the day, even when they don’t mean to, that I realized I would miss them. I know now that even if I could afford pay a tutor to teach them all the things that I think they would need, I would miss them too much to get anything done. I am grateful to be homeschooling and I hope you can be too!
I hope this has given you some ideas that help. Here are some other resources you may enjoy:
Can you imagine the tension before a horse race with me? The horses lined up snorting, trapped by the confines of the starting gate. Some of them, the more experienced ones, are bracing for the sound they know (and probably hate) so well. Then-
And they’re off! Road Rage has jumped ahead, but here comes Overwhelmed right behind him, wait, Overwhelmed has passed Road Rage as Sobbing For No Reason leaps ahead of them both. Here’s comes Busy, Busy on the inside and slips past Road Rage into a solid third. At the back of the pack is the favorite, Calm and Collected.
Sound familiar? This craziness is how the first 3 days of school went this year. The kids started a new full day enrichment program which has me driving 4 times across the Denver Metro Area at rush hour. Needless to say I almost died 3 times, and encountered my own road rage for the first time in at least 5 years. Fortunately, they only go once a week. Then we started homeschool, had a birthday, entertained family, organized and executed a church youth program meeting, and more I just can’t remember. I’m pooped and it’s only Thursday.
The horses have hit the ground at full gallop, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to slow down until at least October. When the days are like this, I lean on my scripture study even more. Though I am tempted to put it aside for “just tonight,” I know that will only make me feel worse. So I say a prayer and open up the Good Book. I am subsequently refreshed by communicating with my Maker.
Does this sound like your life too? How do you cope?
Thanks for reading and following along with my journey!